Friday, April 5, 2013

Writing Historical Fiction: Rookie Errors

I finished revising the novel in the fall of 2011, thanks to a brief retreat out to a cabin near the big brown spot that used to be Lake Buchanan, Texas.  Then I sent it out to a small group of readers.  The response was all positive, but one reader (there's always one), who is a true fan of the genre besides being a very good friend, took me to task on the liberties I had taken with historical fact.  After all, the novel is historical fiction-fantasy; I though it would be okay.  But it wasn't.  Historical fiction readers know their stuff.  Deviating from known record without acknowledgment is like nails on chalkboard.  He also pointed out places where the characters wobbled, where the plot movement failed.  You need readers like this.

So I dug in.  Again.

I already had the story, the time and the place.  I reviewed historical record to see if I couldn't better tie in the story to actual events, people and places.  The great thing about late 12th c. England is that there is a lot of information out there, even about specific battles and the number of prisoners taken and how they were treated.  But - critical for a writer - there are also a lot of gaps.  The record says that someone died, but not how.  Or that someone was suddenly out of favor with the court, but there's no good evidence to explain why.  This is where the story happens.  Maybe there was an illegitimate son out there, bitter and vengeful, who was never officially acknowledged.  Maybe a person actually died two months earlier, but for political reasons the death wasn't reported until later.  Maybe somewhere, a Welsh warrior was taken in by a Cornish baron whose loyalty to the Plantagenets was always a little thin.

So, I've flipped the geography of the story, tied it more directly to the principle conflicts brewing in the royal household, toughened up the characters a bit, and begun the rewrite.  I've also written extensive historical notes, to aid in keeping the thread of which characters, events and places are historical and which are fictional.  Anything historical is kept true to the record, with any deviations being deliberate and significant to the story.

I'm 50,000 words in to the rewrite now.  Here's hoping I find a place for this story when it's done.  And here's hoping I have enough writing talent in me to do justice to this story.  I love it, I love the characters, and I feel a sense of duty to them, now that I've created them, not to let them down.